Welcome to this week’s edition of The Glove Bag! This weekly mailbag looks at some intriguing goalkeeper topics from the past week (Monday to Sunday).

This edition covers some topics that happened between Monday, July 13 to Sunday, August 19.


LAST WEEK IN GOALKEEPING HISTORY

Looking back on an important moment in goalkeeping history.

July 16 marked the 70th anniversary of arguably the saddest moment in Brazilian football history. On that day in 1950, the Brazilian national football team lost the World Cup to unfancied Uruguay by a score of 2-1.

Dubbed the Maracanazo due to it taking place in Brazil’s prized Estádio do Maracanã, Brazil were deemed to be the unparalleled favourites. They had beaten Uruguay in the 1949 Copa América by a 5-1 score, and having smoked Sweden and Spain by 7-1 and 6-1 scorelines in the final round, Brazil only needed a draw against Uruguay to clinch the World Cup.

It was generally accepted by all Brazilians that Brazil were world champions, then for the first time ever. 22 goal medals — one for each Brazilian player — were already made, and a victory song called Brasil Os Vencedores had already been composed and practiced. O Mundo even printed an early edition of the newspaper on the day of the final containing a photograph of Brazil with the caption “These are the world champions”.

Suffice to say, when over 200,000 spectators packed the Maracanã on July 16, 1950, the last thing they expected was a Uruguay win. But as history would have it, a Uruguay win was exactly what they got.

The loss was a sickening blow to a country that viewed its football team as unbeatable. Brazil was sent into a state of mourning, and many Brazilians refused to accept that the loss had even happened.

“How could this have happened to us?” Brazilians asked, unable to fathom that their team had been outplayed by another. “How was this possible? Who’s responsible for this?”

Brazil needed a scapegoat, and they found it in their goalkeeper.

Moacir Barbosa was a relatively well-respected goalkeeper during his playing days. He played for CR Vasco da Gama, one of Brazil’s top clubs, and won several championships, including the continental Campeonato Sul-Americano de Campeões in 1948. He was also recognized by the IFFHS as Brazil’s third-best goalkeeper and South America’s eleventh-best goalkeeper of the 20th century.

But since 1950, all he’s ever been associated with is the Maracanazo.

Alcides Ghiggia’s winning goal had squeaked under Barbosa from a tight angle. It was an odd mistake from the usually-reliable goalkeeper, but it was enough to cost Brazil the trophy and Barbosa his reputation.

For 50 years between the final and his death in 2000, Barbosa was heckled and humiliated for his performance. From being gifted the old wooden goalposts from the Maracanã (which he later burned) to being prohibited from commentating a national team match by Brazilian Football Confederation president Ricardo Teixeira to overhearing a woman telling her child “He is the man that made all of Brazil cry”, Barbosa was never allowed to forget what he had done to his country.

But Barbosa’s performance didn’t just affect him. His mistake led to some Brazilians questioning the quality of black goalkeepers in general. For 56 years after the 1950 Maracanazo, not a single Afro-Brazilian goalkeeper represented Brazil in a World Cup.

Barbosa lived alone, had no children and was not in contact with his relatives. It’s said that some of his final words were: “I’m not guilty. There were 11 of us.”


Pardon my opinion

Mouhamad’s take on a pressing goalkeeping-related topic.

On July 13, the LA Galaxy took on the Portland Timbers in the two sides’ opening match of their Return to Play campaigns. The Galaxy were the game’s favourite to win, with star signing Javier ‘Chicharito’ Hernández, the highest-paid player in MLS, starting in just his third match for the club.

Still looking for his first goal as a member of the Galaxy, Chicharito had the opportunity to open his scoring account early when the Galaxy were awarded a penalty in the 11th minute.

The Mexican international, who scored 12 penalty goals across his 14-year career, stepped up to the spot. But instead of rippling the netting, Chicharito’s attempt rebounded off of the hands of Portland goalkeeper Steve Clark, who then saved the follow-up attempt.

But rather than focusing on Clark’s incredible double save, some people, including big media organizations, focused on Chicharito’s inability to convert his penalty attempt. Clark received little praise for overcoming the odds of saving a penalty. Instead, the focus was kept on Chicharito, who was deemed to have “missed” his penalty.

This isn’t exactly a new or one-off expression. Many times when a player’s penalty is saved — especially if that player is a star — the player is criticized for “missing” their penalty attempt, with the goalkeeper’s save — the real star of the play — put on the backburner.

Two examples of this kind of critique came during the 2018 World Cup. In Argentina’s opening match, Lionel Messi’s penalty attempt was saved by Iceland’s Hannes Þór Halldórsson. But any discussion about the attempt focused on the “miss” from Messi, not Halldórsson’s save.

A few matchdays later, when Portugal played against Group B opponents Iran, Cristiano Ronaldo saw his penalty saved by Iranian goalkeeper Alireza Beiranvand. And just like Messi, Ronaldo was criticized for “missing” his penalty.

I won’t lie, I get really irked by comments suggesting that a saved penalty attempt was actually a missed penalty. In my opinion, it doesn’t make sense to label such plays as “missed” penalties.

Firstly, the term “missed” usually implies that a player missed the goal — that a shot did not hit the target. If a shot hits the net but is saved, it’s not called a missed attempt. If a free kick hits the goal but is saved, it’s not called a missed free kick. Any shot that hits the target is not deemed to have missed the target. So given that, why are saved penalties — penalties that were on target — called “missed” penalties? It doesn’t make sense to call them such.

More importantly, by calling a saved penalty a “missed” penalty, you’re taking credit away from the goalkeeper. It takes a fair amount of mental strength and quality to not only move in the correct direction of the attempt but also get a strong enough barrier in front of it to turn it away. The odds are often said to be against the goalkeeper in penalty situations, so when a goalkeeper does save a penalty, it should be celebrated as an example of incredible athletic quality.

But by taking the focus away from the goalkeeper and boiling the save down to a “missed” attempt from the shooter, you’re taking the credit away from the goalkeeper — a player who’s already undervalued — and basically disrespecting them.

So the next time you come across someone claiming that a player’s saved penalty was missed, correct them. The goalkeeper deserves credit for making the save.


STARS OF THE WEEK

Shoutout to these goalkeepers for their great work last week!

Emiliano Martínez (Arsenal)

Two editions of The Glove Bag, two shoutouts for Emiliano Martínez.

After two strong performances against Leicester City and Tottenham, Arsenal’s Argentine goalkeeper somehow found a way to one-up himself last week.

On July 15, Martínez produced eight saves in the North London club’s 2-1 win over the Premier League champions Liverpool, with noteworthy stops coming against Mohamed Salah and Trent Alexander-Arnold.

Three days later, Martínez kept a clean sheet in a 2-0 victory over the reigning FA Cup champions Manchester City, sending Arsenal to the competition’s final for the first time since 2017.

Kailen Sheridan (Sky Blue FC)

In one of the top upsets of the past week, seventh-seeded Sky Blue FC advanced to the NWSL Challenge Cup semifinal following a 4-3 shootout victory over the second-seeded Washington Spirit. The teams went to a shootout following a scoreless draw.

The Beez couldn’t have done it without their goalkeeper. Canadian international Kailen Sheridan had one of her top performances ever when she kept an eight-save clean sheet in regular time. Her biggest stop came late in the first half when she made a one-handed save on Ashley Sanchez’s attempt.

Sheridan capped off the performance with the winning penalty save.

Thibaut Courtois (Real Madrid)

On July 16, Real Madrid clinched their record 34th Spanish league title following a 2-1 win over Villarreal. The victory, along with title-challengers Barcelona’s 2-1 loss to Osasuna, ensured the capital club their first league title in three years.

Thibaut Courtois made a significant contribution to that title-clinching victory. The Belgian goalkeeper conceded just once on four total shots, making three saves along the way.

Two of those saves came at the death. With Villarreal pressing for an equalizer, Courtois made an excellent diving save on a tricky, bouncing delivery. He then followed it up with a title-winning goalline save.


FOLLOWER QUESTIONS

Answering some of my followers’ most pressing questions.

@JadSadaka asks: What do you make of  Alisson Becker’s save against Napoli in the 2018-19 Champions League group stage? It’s often criticized because the shot was, according to some people, “straight at Alisson.”

Whenever a goalkeeper makes a good save, it’s easy for the critics among us to undermine the stop. A goalkeeper made a strong penalty save? Well, that’s only because the penalty attempt was so poor. A goalkeeper made a goalline save? Obviously, he just got lucky. The list of these takes goes on.

One of the more popular criticisms that I’ve come across is the one that undermines a particular save because “it was straight at the goalkeeper.” According to some people, some saves just aren’t that good because the opponent shot the ball straight at the goalkeeper. The save was made not because of the goalkeeper’s own brilliance, they say, but because the shooter messed up.

There are many saves that have received this treatment, but the one that always comes to my mind is Alisson’s save against Napoli on the final matchday of the 2018-19 Champions League group stage.

Alisson’s stop may have been the most important play of Liverpool’s entire season, as it made sure Liverpool earned the win and qualified over Napoli to the Champions League knockout rounds. They would go on to win the entire competition later that season, meaning that without Alisson’s save, history would’ve looked completely different.

And yet, if you read through the embedded tweet’s replies, a fair number of commenters diminish Alisson’s save because it was “straight at him.”

The problem with this cliché is that it delegitimizes not only the save but also the technical aspects — Alisson’s footwork, reading of the game and positional readjustments — the Brazilian implemented to put himself in a good position to make the save.

As the ball is sent into Alisson’s box, the goalkeeper has to constantly be readjusting his feet to make sure his weight is not only equally distributed, but also that he’s in a good position to save the attempt. On the play, Alisson is constantly in motion; constantly taking steps around his box as the ball moves into dangerous territory.

Then, when the ball finds it’s way to Arkadiusz Milik, Alisson springs into action. There is less than a second difference between Milik’s first touch and Milik’s shot, meaning that Alisson has less than a second to not only move from a position on the left side of his goal to one closer to Milik (who’s closer to his right side), but also make himself bigger and cut down the area Milik has to shoot at.

This is the key aspect of Alisson’s save that’s being lost in the “straight at him” commentary. Had Alisson not processed this evolving play quickly, had he not readjusted his positioning quickly, and had he not taken the proper steps to put himself in a good position to save this shot quickly, he would not have stopped this attempt.

This is why I don’t pay heed to the “it was straight at him” critiques. Those critiques delegitimize the technical aspects of goalkeeping and boil everything down to a simple cracker that couch potato analysts can munch on.

The reality is that this save is a fantastic example of Alisson’s quick thinking and technical excellence, and it was a significant turning point in Liverpool’s Champions League campaign.


One of football punditry’s most popular clichés has to do with the near post. It’s the area of the post closest to the goalkeeper, and according to the cliché, it’s an area that a goalkeeper should never be beaten at.

For many viewers and football enthusiasts, conceding at your near post is a legitimate criticism. After all, shouldn’t a goalkeeper save any shot aimed to an area near him? And given the near post area is not often as big as, say, the far post area, shouldn’t that mean goalkeepers should never concede there?

No, not at all.

For starters, even if the near post area boasts less real estate than the far post area, it’s still a large part of the goal for an average human being to cover. The standard professional football goal is very big — 24 feet wide by 8 feet tall. That is a lot of area for one average-sized goalkeeper (who stands at around 6 ft 3 tall by my rough estimates) to cover. And as much as we’d like to have every inch of our goal covered at all times, it’s just not physically possible, even if you limit the area to the near post.

A goalkeeper’s chances of stopping a shot at the near post are made even more difficult by a shot’s qualities. Shots come in all shapes and types, from speeding, powerful attempts to well-placed strikes from close range. The quality of the shot — its speed, its placement, its trajectory, the area it was struck from, etc. — plays a key role in a goalkeeper’s chances of saving it. Human beings can only react so quickly, and if you’re faced with, for example, a fast-paced attempt from the edge of your six-yard box, the likelihood of you saving that shot is low, even if it’s aimed at your near post.

Leicester City goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel said it best in a quote attributed to him: “One day someone just came up with it and said a goalkeeper should never be beaten at their near post. Anyone who has played in goal knows it’s a huge area and you try to cover the whole goal. You can’t try and cover the whole goal and guarantee the ball won’t go in at the near post if it’s a great shot. Near post, far post, you try to cover it all and you’re not happy if it goes in anywhere.”

Unfortunately, despite those involved in the position saying otherwise, the near post myth is still a common cliché among fans and even football pundits.

But like Schmeichel said, there’s no guarantee a shot won’t go in at the near post, especially if it’s a great shot. So we must consider that when looking at near post goals.


Have a question, suggestion or anything else you’d like to see included in this column? Let me know on Twitter via @ThatArabKeeper.

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